Certifiably Married

Quick question … for those of you who are married, do you know where your marriage certificate is? This document, most often provided to the married couple shortly after “I Do” and “I Will” have been spoken, is often a fancy piece of parchment that notes the names of the married partners and the place where their vows were exchanged. Signatures of the witnesses and person who officiated are often included on the document.antique-marriagecertificate-graphicsfairysm

I love the marriage certificate pictured above – apparently from the 1800s – because of its elegant simplicity and its implicit invitation to attach photos of the bride and the groom! Unlike many of the digital documents produced today for births, marriages, etc., this above document is artful and would be a beautiful keepsake to display.

Once the marriage has been solemnized, I’m guessing most couples store their marriage certificate away and never think about it again. Pretty as some of these documents are, I don’t know a single couple who has ever had one framed and hung on their wall. It’s almost as if the document is insignificant because the two people involved are ample proof that the marriage still exists. Am I wrong about this?

StrickerNormRutheMarriageCertEarlier today, I was sifting through some of my mom’s papers. (I’ve been trying to digitize her important papers to share with my siblings.) Lo and behold, part of the collection I was sorting today is my mom and dad’s marriage certificate … even more stunning, I realized today – January 30 – is their anniversary!

Sixty-nine years ago today, a young couple stood before a minister on a brisk Wednesday night for a hastily-arranged wedding ceremony. He was fresh out of military service and she had come to “meet” his family (in St. Louis) before returning to her home in Philadelphia. (Read more about my mom here.)

Instead, before she could board the train to return home, he popped the question and called up the minister intending to seal her “Yes” and forestall any second thoughts she might have had. My dad … always the practical man … figured everyone would already be at church for midweek services, so why not have a wedding after the service!?!

The marriage certificate (pictured above) mirrors the era just after World War II … the paper’s adequate but not rich-looking parchment. The design reflects a craftsman’s modest effort to produce marriage certificates efficiently and at minimal cost. The grayscale shading is an attempt at artfulness, but just barely. Honestly, had it been my marriage certificate, I think I’d have been tempted to at least decorate the lovebirds at the top with a few colored pastel strokes. (I know. I have gaudy taste.)Ruthe10

Imagine, if you will, my mother (an only child raised in an eastern boarding school and totally unfamiliar with large, extended families) marrying into the close-knit German-rooted family my dad had enjoyed his whole life. Several families lived under the same roof and the others lived close by. They all gathered for dinner daily at my grandmother’s table.

Thankfully, though there was some initial wariness about this woman from the East, they generously embraced my mother. It’s a good thing, too, because after the marriage, my parents lived with Dad’s parents for about three years before finding a place of their own.

My mom’s wedding picture (above right) shows her in a borrowed gown. When my parents announced they were going to marry after the midweek church service, there was a mad dash to gather everything together to make it happen! My dad’s sisters in law were invaluable in making this cobbled-together event memorable.

My folks were married 48 years before Daddy died from a brain tumor. They shared a wonderful life together and were still passionately in love as they neared half a century of living as one. Finding that plain marriage certificate today, I reminded myself of the exceptional selflessness and giving nature of their union that outshone the simple piece of paper declaring its inception. How blessed I am to have shared in the lives of these two, my first heroes.

So I ask again, do you know where your marriage certificate is? I do, but it’s been a while since I’ve looked at it. Maybe I should have it framed.

Renée